Part Sixteen

    Crawford didn't tell me what time to expect him, but it's not like I need a major heads-up. There's no way he can land in Bucharest without me knowing, especially when I've got us a hotel just a ten-minute walk away. I ping his mind to let him know I'm on my way. I still manage to beat him there, since he has to go through security.

    He's brought two suitcases with him that need to clear through customs, which I guess means we've left Beijing for good. I'm not going to miss it. I take mine from him when he reaches me and roll it along behind me. I lead him without leading, because I'm not in enough of a rush to walk ahead of him. The airport is busy, as airports always are, and I slant a gaze up to watch a plane come roaring down for a landing. It looks close enough to spit on, but experience tells me it's a bit too far away.

    We say nothing on the walk, me because I'm checking things out and Crawford because he's indulging in his favorite Crawford hobby: Serious Thought. He doesn't ask me if Nagi was successful, and I don't volunteer the information. He asked me to take care of it, so I did. He trusts me to have made it to Nagi, just like I trust Nagi to have gotten that CD hidden. I have the feeling it would have made it back to us already if something had gone wrong.

    The receptionist offers us a greeting in accented English as we step through the front door of Sky Gate Hotel, recognizing us as tourists of a sort. We both ignore her in favor of the elevator. Our room is on the third floor, but I'm not lugging my suitcase up the stairs. Man invented elevators for a reason, after all.

    I get the door open for both of us and we leave our suitcases by the dressers to deal with later. In the old days, Crawford would have unpacked immediately so his suits wouldn't get wrinkled. Suits were impractical in China until we moved to Beijing, though. I wore him down to dress pants and business shirts, a major accomplishment when it comes to someone like him. He still wants it all unpacked as soon as possible, but he knows the futility of even trying yet. It's our first evening together since before I went to Russia nine days ago. I barely slow long enough to lock the door behind us.

    I compound Crawford's impending jet lag with exhaustion. It feels good breaking in our new bed. The shower afterwards feels even better, though it means we're both left muddle-minded enough that we need coffee. The room didn't come with a coffee maker. I noticed that when I first checked in. I made the receptionist go buy one for me, and we're stocked to last at least a week. I work on getting that started while Crawford finally tends to his clothes. We finish about the same time and end up at the little table by the window, curtains drawn tight against the night, with a spread of papers and Nagi's fate between us.

    "This is what we know so far," Crawford says, considering his papers. They're all covered with his neat handwriting, everything he can remember about Project Rosenkreuz. Not a single piece is an official report or Rosenkreuz-verified statistics. Absolutely everything on this table comes straight from his memory. From here all we'll have are details and assumptions based on what me-centric visions he can drag up. It's kind of weird now that I know how it works. Where we go from here builds up from what I'm going to do. Precogs are such insufferable creatures, mine most of all. I'd think we were both insane for considering running a job like this, but this is how Crawford took out Hoffmann and the Elders.

    We are such hot shit sometimes.

    "The facility in Russia was the starting point. When Project Rosenkreuz was moved out of Austria, Estet buried it in Moscow. What we've done is destroyed its origins. Next we have to move up the line to its current projects.

    "As you noticed, none of Chizuru's teams were present in Moscow." Crawford draws one sheet free of the stack and sets it on top, tilting it where we can both read the names. Rosenkreuz A through C don't have anything beside them. From D down, there are actual names and remarks. A frown twitches at my mouth as I stare at the first name on the list:

Rosenkreuz D
Berger, Telepath, 4952, ~20 years

    "That's mine," I say slowly, a press for a confirmation. "My blood."

    "Yes," Crawford agrees. "Berger was bred from a blood sample of yours taken at birth. He was the first stable-minded telepath they could create."

    "Create," I echo, voice thick with disgust. "You don't create telepaths, damn it, especially not from me."

    "He is stable but limited," Crawford says, tapping his finger beside the other two names beneath D. "His telepathy works on a closed network. He was the first telepath who could create a bond with fellow psychics, but he achieved that by shutting his gift down to within that net. That is why I pushed you to surpass those limits. All three of D have your blood in them, but Berger is the only one who accepted it."


    He slides his finger down the page towards Rosenkreuz E, another three-Talent unit, this time with two telepaths in it, two boys named Edward and Peter. "Chizuru reported E's telepaths as showing significantly more promise, but they were only five at the time. A year and a half later, she still favored D over the subsequent groups. In all three of these groups the networks were sealed shut within the teams. This information, however, is dated from before I even took you from Rosenkreuz."

    "Meaning there's no telling how many they have now, or how strong," I conclude.

    "You saw a glimpse of them in Moscow," Crawford says, tilting his head to one side and gazing through me. "They seem to have expanded greatly in minor manipulations. Anything above that is Rosenkreuz's concern. Our focus is here." He spreads his fingers to indicate D and F. "These are the groups that stand between us and Nagi's cure."

    "Suppose if we put an ad out in the paper they'll come looking for us?" I can't help but ask. The look he sends me says Crawford is not impressed by my smart ass remark. I offer him an unrepentant smirk. "How else do you expect us to find them, then?"

    "They will come to us," Crawford says with calm surety. "We will not worry about attracting their attention. I am ultimately more interested in the facilities they are assigned to."

    "Right. Where do we start?"

    Crawford gives me that patient look that means I'm about to hate him. "With a room."

    I stare at him, refusing to believe that we have to build an entire future backwards from a split-second vision of me in a room somewhere in this godforsaken world. Crawford gazes back.

    I am, of course, the first to break. "Tell me you're joking."

    "You already know I hold no value in having a sense of humor."

    "That's one of the first things I learned about you," I agree. I think about that for a second and offer him a wicked smirk around the rim of my mug. "The absolute first was that you can be a real asshole without a lot of effort. I hated you."

    Crawford is neither surprised nor affronted by that admission. Instead he says, "It was mutual."

    I think about that, wondering if I should be startled. I had always figured I was trying Crawford's patience, especially once I was stable enough to have a gun of my own. He'd never given himself away as feeling anything stronger than that. I'm fascinated despite myself and toy with the mental image of Crawford loathing waking up everyday knowing he would have to take care of me. "Was it really?"

    "Beyond a doubt," is his dry response.

    I study him for a moment. "That's kind of hot."

    He doesn't bother to answer that. We sip at our coffee for a few minutes more.

    Crawford is the first to speak again. "We will find a different hotel tomorrow. We will be in Romania for a while."

    "Different meaning cheaper," I conclude. Looks like I'm going to end up picking up another language. Idly I wonder when I'm going to start forgetting them. I rake a hand through my hair and eye the papers in front of us again. "We going to be able to find work here?"

    "There is always going to be a demand for the kind of work we do," Crawford says. "We'll have our first project within the week."

    "That'll do." I raise my mug in a mocking toast. "Here's to yet another stretch of tedious research."

    We drain our mugs and set them aside, and thus begins our stay in Romania.


    Our hotel room is a tiny thing with an even smaller bathroom and one piece of furniture: the bed. I'm appalled the first time I see it, since it's so below what we deserve that there's no way Crawford should have even thought of it. It takes me a few days to decide that that might be why he chose it: no one is ever going to think to look for us here. On top of that, taking so much time off in Beijing meant we started scraping pretty low in our savings. That doesn't make me like the room any more, but I stop grousing after a week and a half. The coffee maker I bring over from our other hotel helps a little, and really, the bed is our most important furnishing. The springs still work, anyway, though I'm working on breaking them before we move out.

    We have our first assignment in just two days. It's pathetically easy, just a simple hit, but it's money and it's work. It also opens the door to other clients who realize we're good on our word. Most importantly, though, it's full of triggers. I don't have to do anything but be me, and Crawford's gift pings off key words and gestures.

    He spends his free time considering his notebook as he tries to piece it all together, but we both know it's going to take time to make a future entirely from seconds-long visions. I resign myself to learning the local language and getting used to the food, mostly because I have to act as interpreter for Crawford. That's a new experience, equal parts amusing and odd. It's weird to me to think that Crawford can't understand a single word anyone is saying. When his visions include our targets and clients, he has to send the snips my way to translate. I taunt him about it and he is, predictably, not amused.

    He doesn't keep me updated on his progress, since there's no real reason to. He can make more sense of his mental scraps than I ever could and he risks influencing my actions. When he finally starts getting names, though, it's time to really get moving.

    We've been in Romania for three weeks by then. I get out of the shower to find Crawford sitting on our bed/desk/shelves/dinner table. He has his back against the headboard and his mind a million miles away. I scrub dry in silence and find my sleeping pants beneath one of the pillows. My towel is tossed carelessly to one side just so it'll get a reaction from Crawford later and I invite myself to sit right in front of him. I stare at him as he stares through me. At length I decide he's not lost in visions, because I can't feel anything with my gift.

    I reach up as if to poke him in the third eye. He catches my finger without looking my way and pulls me forward. He stops with our mouths just a breath apart and finally focuses on me.

    "Your towel does not belong on the floor."

    "It's not."

    We both know it is, but it's not worth arguing over yet, so he pulls me in the rest of the way. It's a short kiss, but long enough to make me rethink my idea to get dressed. I've just started picking at his clothes when he speaks, and his words freeze me in my tracks.

    "We're going to Germany."

    Crawford says nothing else, content to gaze at me and wait for my reaction. It takes me a long minute to figure out how to react and a longer one to remember how to breathe.

    "I hear a royal we in there somewhere."

    "The first school is in Germany."

    "School," I spit, releasing him entirely. "What school?"

    "Moscow branched into five outside facilities, one more lab and four schools. The research we are looking for is hidden within the schools," Crawford explains. "The idea was taken from Rosenkreuz, but I feel the reality will be far different. There are four of them: two that we will have to leave to the Council, and two that are for us to find. Weinrote High School is in Germany. That is where we will find Project F."

    "Why Germany?" I demand.

    "Hoffmann's hatred of the country was well known in the upper circles. Estet would have considered it a safe place to build up."

    I want to keeping arguing with that, but Crawford will just read it as fear. I refuse to be afraid of anything. If I could get it together enough to help kill Hoffmann, there's really nothing else to be afraid of anymore. That doesn't stop my stomach from shredding itself into pieces just thinking about Rosenkreuz and Germany. I barely remember anything about the school, but my memories of Germany are still mostly intact. I remember my parents' madness and Hoffmann's visits and endless nights of insanity on the streets.

    Crawford expects me to just face that and not care. It seems ridiculous to me at first before I remember that he simply can't fathom being slowed down by memories. He's a prescient, after all. The only thing he can afford to linger on is the future. He told me that already. No matter what's been done to him, he was trained to ignore it all in favor of future possibilities.

    "Ugh," I say, annoyed and sick at once. "I can't be outdone, not by the likes of you."

    "I'm glad to hear that," is his dry response.

    I say nothing immediately but shift, sitting myself to his left and slouching low against the headboard. "So. Project F."

    "They are nowhere near the Council's level, but they are still strong. They have powers we are not used to facing and they have research we need to retrieve. This means two things: we will take our time in deciding the best approach, and we are going to employ extra bodies."

    "Farfarello?" I hazard a guess, remembering how Crawford said we'd see him again.

    "Farfarello," Crawford agrees. "And Kritiker."

    I grimace at him for that last bit. "Why am I not surprised?"

    "Our defection from Rosenkreuz has lost us access to resources that they still have. While it is not extensive as what we are used to, it will still be enough. I will handle Kritiker's side of things. You will head to Iceland to retrieve Farfarello. It should not take long; he will notice you as soon as you land."

    "Iceland," I echo. "What's he doing there?"

    He flicks his fingers in dismissal, indicating that he doesn't know and doesn't care. He and Farfarello didn't exactly part on friendly terms. I tried quieting Farfarello's resentment and fury, but there's no telling how much that really helped. Now Farfarello's had a year to refine his gift, and neither Crawford nor I want a trained empath on our hands. I know Farfarello won't use that power to hurt us, but I still hate how it feels in my head. Crawford, on the other hand, does not like being an open book for Farfarello's appraisal.

    "When am I leaving?" I want to know.

    "We will not bring him in until we are ready to move," Crawford answers. "The details would bore him into leaving again."

    "I notice that me being bored has never gotten me out of the work. I claim favoritism."

    "Not likely."

    I offer him a taunting smirk that he, predictably, ignores. Instead he looks towards the clock, reading the time there and judging the time zone difference. "We will contact Kritiker in the morning."

    "I can't wait," I drawl. Crawford just quirks an eyebrow at me and I lean in to nip at his lower lip.

    "Your towel does not belong on the floor," he says again.

    "One day I want you to understand that normal people are not anywhere near as picky and straight-edged as you are," I tell him.

    "Duly noted. Towel."

    That tone tells me I'm not getting anything until I go put my towel where it belongs. I mime shooting him before collecting it off the floor. I grumble the entire way back from the bathroom, but Crawford reaches out to pull me in and I'm more than happy to give up griping for kissing.


    Crawford contacts Kritiker headquarters in the morning. Tsukiyono isn't there and no one is interested in giving us his direct number, but Crawford is fine with leaving a message. It's barely more than an order to call us back "regarding Tomoe's condition". We're not sure how much the Weiss brat has shared with his superiors, but that alone will be enough to get a response from him.

    We have enough time to go into town for breakfast and coffee. Crawford times it perfectly; we've just shut the hotel room door behind us when our phone starts ringing. Crawford answers on the third ring and puts it on speaker.


    There's a short pause before the kid answers stiffly, "Takatori."

    "Congratulations on your promotion," Crawford says, not sounding a whit sincere.

    "Get to the point," Tsukiyono-turned-Takatori says. Distance makes him brave. Or stupid. Almost makes me wish we'd stuck around Japan to see just what has happened to Weiss. "Rex told me you had news on Sakura. It's been almost a year since I last heard from you. I'd started thinking you'd given up."

    "Don't compare us to the likes of you," I tell him. I can hear my accent in my Japanese from so long a time without speaking it and I grimace at Crawford in displeasure. "Schwarz doesn't give up on things it wants."

    "Do you have to be included in this conversation?" Takatori asks.

    "Hang up if you don't like it," I invite him. "We'll do this on our own."

    Silence follows that and I know he desperately wants to follow through. We all know he can't. When he speaks again, I can read his anger in the clipped edge to his words. "You've made progress, then?"

    "We are currently investigating Estet strongholds and research facilities leftover from the war," Crawford says. Takatori doesn't know what war we mean, but he doesn't ask. He knows he will not get a satisfactory answer. "We have narrowed our targets down to three. What we are suggesting is temporary cooperation."

    "And why should I trust you?"

    "We both need the research that those facilities are hiding. However, Schwarz does not have the time to waste on infiltration and schematics, and you do not have the firepower to contend with a school of Talents."

    "Talents," Takatori echoes. "What does that mean?"

    "It means a lot of little Schwarz-wannabes," I say. "Sonics, pyrokinetics, telepaths, you name it."

    "You mean like those people at the beach."

    "Just like that," I say. It's a lie, because Estet's people can't be anywhere near that strong, but he doesn't need to know the truth. It's better for us if he's intimidated by the people we're about to fight, since it'll make him more likely to agree to this. He needs to think he can't beat them. "They're no problem for us except that they'll slow us down in getting to the research. So we split this work up. You manage getting the data, and we'll handle the keeping-you-alive side of things."

    "How am I to know you won't just turn on us when it's through?"

    "We could," Crawford says, "but there is nothing to be gained from such a thing. You are not worthy targets for us; you are merely stepping stones to get where we want to go. As long as you do not try and force our hand, we would not take any satisfaction in killing you."

    Amazing how indignant and angry silence can sound.

    "Are you in or not?" I ask.

    "I don't seem to have much choice," Takatori points out. "Just tell me what you want Kritiker to do."

    He listens in silence as Crawford tells him about Weinrote High School. There's not much to tell, but what little we have will somehow be enough. Takatori confirms that he can reach us at this number and thinks to ask what the time zone difference is. It's a funny bit of consideration that I find highly amusing. I guess Kritiker looked up our callback number before passing it to their new boss. Crawford and Takatori make arrangements to keep each other updated on a regular basis and the ex-Weiss isn't quite as hostile by the time he hangs up. He's still suspicious, but he can't wait to start working on this. Tomoe and the female Fujimiya are in serious condition as far as he's concerned, and he wants to do everything he can to make it better.

    Crawford's next call is to Ikida, who has moved into a regular position at his hospital without Rosenkreuz funding to support him. We've been keeping the doctor somewhat updated on our progress on finding a cure, since he's the one who's going to have to put it together from all of the data. Ikida is given Kritiker's contact number in case he needs further information from them from Japan's side of things. Ikida slips a query on Crawford's health into the conversation as stealthily as he can. Crawford sees it coming just the same and turns it away with an indifferent response.

    After that there's not much else to do but wait while Kritiker does all of the hard work. Crawford still keeps his visions tuned in to Weinrote and the elusive fourth school, but most of our time and attention is devoted to the jobs we're running in Romania. Kritiker doesn't have the reach Rosenkreuz does, so it takes them longer to do the research. With little Takatori calling the shots, though, this job takes top priority under about eight layers of "top secret" warnings.

    Everything slows down and gets more complicated when Crawford and Takatori manage to unearth the fourth school about four weeks in: Koua Academy in Japan. Kritiker splits its research up between the two schools and eventually expands Weiss to accommodate the extra work. Before the week is out, Fujimiya has been instated at Koua as a professor. He has strict orders to not investigate anything until we are ready, since we need time to kill any suspicions towards him. He doesn't even know what he's doing there, but he doesn't question it.

    Once Fujimiya is in position, it's time to move. Takatori slows just long enough to confirm that Rosenkreuz F is not in the country at the time, and then he shifts Hidaka and Kudou to Germany. I think it's the dumbest move he could have made, since he knows the risks now, but he trusts them more than any other field agents and he wants them in on this. They start a slow infiltration by going through the staff, protected by their limited knowledge and the fact that they're dead minds. They don't even know that their former teammate is coordinating this with Schwarz. If they did, I doubt they'd be here.

    Things start getting a little complicated over the next three weeks. Kudou is working on getting into Weinrote through one of the female professors, some dumb lady named Michelle. Kritiker doesn't say much about what Hidaka is up to, but after the second week, they report that they have moved the rest of Weiss to Koua.

    Two and a half weeks in, Kritiker has "bad" news to report. They've made inroads into uncovering the experiments at Koua, but that comes at the price of losing one of their agents. Neither Crawford nor I feign any sympathy for the loss. Takatori hangs up on us, not wanting to deal with our callous attitude. We wait, knowing he will call back. Despise us or not, he has to work with us. It takes just a couple minutes before our phone is ringing again. We say nothing about him disconnecting but go right back to business.

    A half a week later, Kudou gets what he wanted and has full access to the school. I listen to the news in silence. Crawford assures Takatori that Schwarz will be in Germany tomorrow for a ten p.m. attack, and they finalize the details. I move off to the corner of the room with my own phone and purchase myself some plane tickets: one to Iceland and two from Iceland to Stuttgart.

    We give the bed a last hurrah and I take myself to the airport for my afternoon flight. Crawford will spend one more night here and get us checked out in the morning. I make my flight with plenty of time to spare and nap most of the way to Iceland in an attempt to make the eight hours go by faster. The flight connects in Prague and Copenhagen and then I'm finally touching down in Reykjavik.

    I feel Farfarello the second the plane hits the runway. Rather, he feels me ping off his larger radar first, and his gift crackles against my skin in recognition. I don't bother to say anything to him yet. Instead I collect my overnight bag and file off the airplane. I get through customs with no problem at all, using my gift to get right past security, and I sit down at an airport café to wait.

    It doesn't take long at all.

    Farfarello melts out of the crowd barely an hour later, looking almost ghoulishly white between his pale skin and the florescent overhead lights. I knew he was mobile again, otherwise he couldn't have left Japan, but it's still so good to see him up and moving that I can't help but grin. He's dressed in all black and I know why as soon as he sits down across from me. The smell of blood is so thick on him that I can taste it in my coffee.

    "Out of curiosity, why Iceland?" I ask.

    "Why not?" is his vague response.

    A waitress stops by to leave him a glass of water. An offer to take his order is answered with just a cold look, and she vanishes as quick as she can. "How's freedom working out for you?" I ask. "You still having the time of your life picking off tourists and tormenting villagers yet?"

    He slides me a look that is not at all amused. I hide my smile in my coffee because I don't want to be eating my own guts for dinner. For several minutes we don't say anything. I'm content to wait. We have a few minutes until our flight starts to board and Crawford told me Farfarello would practically invite himself along if I just let him.

    Farfarello proves Crawford right. "This is boring," he says flatly. "Empathy is worthless."

    "That's because you're too strong."

    "It makes killing too easy."

    "Maybe you're just fighting the wrong kind of people," I suggest with a small shrug.

    He eyes me critically, knowing I'm baiting him but unable to help himself. "Who are you fighting?"

    "Estet," I answer, and I brief him on what we're doing. Farfarello doesn't need a lot of details; all he wants to know is who and why and when. He doesn't move where he's slouched back in his café chair, but I recognize the sharpness in his gold eye and I can feel his mind prickle. I have his undivided attention. "It's testing grounds for bred Talents," I finish up. "They're all on the young side, but there are enough of them that it might get amusing. Our main focus is on Rosenkreuz F: an empath bred from Hoffmann's blood, a telepath bred from mine, a pyro, and a telekinetic."

    "If they are children, there is no fun to be found in killing them."

    "Consider them a warm-up for what's waiting for us in Japan again," I say. "We're going to be taking on a grown team." He says nothing to that. "Fight them without your gift, then. Fight them like you used to."

    He thinks that over in silence for a minute. The loudspeakers announce first boarding for the flight to Stuttgart and I lift a finger to indicate that that's our flight. Farfarello tilts his head to one side, staring off towards the speakers as if he can see through them to what's waiting for us in Germany tomorrow night. I'm the first to stand, but Farfarello's holding out his hand before I can take the first step away from the table.

    "It'll be fun," I promise him with a wolfish grin. His mouth twitches into just the hint of a vicious smile and I press his ticket into his outstretched fingers. "Welcome back."

Part 17
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